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Pyramid Lake on Jan. 13, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a preliminary permit Thursday to build a new reservoir in the mountains above Pyramid Lake as part of an energy storage project. 

The commission’s approval comes despite environmental and cultural concerns that were expressed in comments from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, which manages most of the land where the project would be sited. The reservoir would be sited in the Lake Range, east of Pyramid Lake, in an area where there are traditional tribal gathering locations and burial sites.

The proposed pumped storage project, backed by Premium Energy Holdings, is one of several proposals in Nevada. Such projects could store solar energy that can be tapped when the sun is not shining. They use excess solar energy to pump water from a low reservoir — in this case Pyramid Lake — to a higher-elevation reservoir. When energy is needed, water from the upper reservoir would be released back to the lake, running through a tunnel and a powerhouse.

A similar plan at Walker Lake won a preliminary permit earlier this month.

Although the preliminary permit gives the company priority to develop the project, it does not give the company a license to build the project or access to conduct on-site studies without the tribe's permission.

In a comment letter filed in November, the tribe said it was opposed to the project “due to the lack of consultation and coordination” with the company. The tribe, in its letter, listed numerous environmental concerns, from water rights to the impact on habitat for the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout, the endangered native cui-ui and bighorn sheep reintroduced to the Lake Range.

During the comment period for the preliminary permit, Premium Energy Holdings said it intended to work with the tribe, and that it would get permission from the tribe before conducting any on-site studies.

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